Now more than ever, women are choosing to have children later in life. There are a variety of personal reasons for why women may choose to delay having children – whether that’s to focus on our career goals, financial reasons, or that we’re still looking for the right partner. Yet, despite pregnancy after age 35 becoming more common, there still seems to be a stigma around it.
In this edition of Candid Consult, we spoke with Dr. Sumiya Majeed (OB/GYN of Indiana) about the real connection between age and pregnancy and how to plan for a healthy pregnancy later in life.
It’s definitely possible to get pregnant after 35! I’m a personal example of that. I’m a proud mom of two and had both of my children after age 35. In fact, we’ve seen a significant trend over the past few years of more and more women in the United States having their first births over the age of 35. Women shouldn’t feel that 35 is a hard stop for getting pregnant.
Unfortunately, medical terminology doesn’t always match up with our modern-day societal norms and language. Even if your pregnancy is labeled “geriatric” by medical guidelines, it doesn’t mean you’re too old to be having a baby!
Yes, it is true that a woman’s fertility declines with age. Before the age of 35, women typically have an easier time conceiving and can conceive more quickly. As we age, our egg reserve can diminish, and we can experience a change in our ovulation patterns. Fortunately, there are many new technologies that can assist in helping women conceive like medication to stimulate ovulation, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), or Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). While you may require more assistance, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
Women over 35 carry a slightly higher risk of pregnancy complications such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and fetal chromosomal abnormalities. Non-invasive prenatal screening tests (NIPT) can help to screen for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down Syndrome. Women in this age group may also experience an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes, hypertension or preeclampsia. It’s important to discuss any preexisting medical conditions with your healthcare provider.
Diet and exercise play an important role in many areas of our health, especially during pregnancy. We know that obesity can make it more difficult to conceive whether you’re in your 20s, 30s, or 40s. Diets such as the Mediterranean diet have been shown to help boost fertility and help women to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy. Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are also important. Age is only one of the factors that increase pregnancy complications. A pregnant patient in her 20s with multiple medical conditions is going to be at higher risk for complications than a healthy woman in her mid-30s. I can’t stress enough how helpful a visit with your OB/GYN prior to conception is in improving outcomes.
In addition to diet and exercise, connecting with your provider early is important. I always encourage women to come and see us before they are considering getting pregnant. The more we know about your health before you enter pregnancy, the better we can assist in helping you throughout your pregnancy journey. During this time, I recommend having your thyroid checked, screening for diabetes, and screening for high blood pressure, which could all affect your chances of a healthy pregnancy. We can also talk about genetic testing to determine if you could potentially pass on conditions such as cystic fibrosis or spinal muscular atrophy to your baby. Pre-conception planning is key to a healthy pregnancy.
I think it’s never too early to speak with your doctor, and know your options. If you’re heading into your mid-30s and are unsure if you want to get pregnant in the next few years, you may want to discuss fertility preservation options such as egg freezing or embryo banking with your provider. It’s important to know that egg loss occurs throughout a woman’s life, but it’s not until age 37 that we typically see a more dramatic decline in a woman’s egg reserve. Research shows that women who freeze their eggs before age 35 have the most success with a live birth.
Our mid-30s can be a wonderful time in life as we have more stability in our careers, personal lives, and a better awareness of our overall health. With proper planning and discussions with your provider, you can absolutely achieve a healthy pregnancy after age 35.